An 11-year vet that would preferably spend his evenings watching “Forensic Files” rather than a popular flick on network television, the latest Netflix craze, or a recap of the day in sports, Robert Quinn has always swum upstream in comparison to the crowd. A former first-rounder of the then-St. Louis Rams more than a decade ago, his resilience, consistency, and longevity as one of the league’s premier pass-rushers have flown under the radar, just the way he prefers it to be.
On his way to his third Pro Bowl this winter, you probably lost track of Quinn over the last handful of years. Following four consecutive seasons that saw him fail to amass more than 8.5 sacks in a single campaign as a subpackage edge threat, Quinn’s tank looked to have run empty in the prime of his career. After seven seasons with the Rams, Quinn enjoyed pit stops with the Miami Dolphins (2018) and Dallas Cowboys (2019), before finally finding a home within the Chicago Bears’ front seven last spring, signing a lucrative five-year, $70M deal that will keep Quinn in the Windy City until his mid-30s.
In a defensive front that has consistently been able to constrict the pocket, wreaking havoc for opposing signal-callers on a weekly basis, Quinn’s prowess as a steady burst off the edge in the passing game has seen the Bears rise within the league’s top-five pass defenses. While it’s not to take away from Chicago’s secondary defenders, a constant presence in the backfield from the Bears’ premier pass-rush specialist this fall has forced offenses to run the ball more and utilize the quick-game in designated passing situations.
While his initial campaign with the Bears saw him record career lows in nearly every major defensive category—including sacks (2.0)—Quinn’s addition, at first, looked to have lit another flame under the ever-warming seat of Chicago general manager Ryan Pace. While little has gone right for the seventh-year general manager and head coach Matt Nagy over the last few seasons—including a 4-10 mark thus far in 2021—a quick fast forward to the backend of this year, which could be the final few weeks of Nagy and Pace’s last hurrah as Chicago’s button pushers, and Quinn has resulted in one of the Bears’ premier signings to boast about, as the 31-year old has found himself hip-to-hip with some of the league’s most youthful edge talents, slotting second in all of football with 16.0 sacks in 13 games played.
That’s not bad for a guy that was told in high school he’d never step foot on the gridiron again.
Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007 as a senior in high school, Quinn’s journey has been an exhausting battle of adversity and overcoming the seemingly impossible since he was a child. Longing to be a pro athlete since his days as an ankle-biter, football quickly became a distant afterthought as Quinn leaned on his bedside at Duke’s Preston Robert-Tisch Brain Tumor Center nearly 15 years ago.
"They told me I wouldn't make it out of the hospital," Quinn said. "I was 17 and the doctors walk out, and I looked at my parents. I mean, I'm crying and so are they, and I say, 'This might be the last week I'm going to be seeing you all.'
Not even old enough to buy a lottery ticket, Quinn’s maturity and ability to focus on the positives—as he always has—brought clarity in the midst of extreme angst.
"I did my best to keep smiling,” Quinn said. “Keep the positive energy around me the best I could even though we were going through a tough time.”
And through it all, an illustrious collegiate career, a top-15 selection, and a potential NFL tenure that could see him conclude his career with a bronze bust in Canton, it’s been the tough times—the days in his youth he yearns to forget, coming face-to-face with death as a teenager—that have ushered Quinn into football glory. A menacing defender who finds himself in the top 40 in the history of football in sacks (98.5), tackles for loss (106), and forced fumbles (32), it’s been his ability to consistently “live in the present,” focusing on the gift that is waking up and taking on each and every day like it’s his last that’s made him truly successful.
Whatever lies in wait within the hashes remains to be seen for Quinn, but a player, and man, that has seen it all and conquered the superficially unconquerable, his appreciation of the moment while carrying a light of positivity has outweighed the negative of the alternatives he’s faced far too often.